The Experiences of Early Career Academics: Blog 1

This blog is based on a conversation between Somia Imran (PhD in Clinical Psychology), co-founder and current media coordinator of ScotDPN, and Early-Career-Academic (ECA) Dr Roxanne Hawkins, who is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of Scotland. In Section 1, Roxanne tells us about her transition from PhD studentship to lectureship; in Section 2, she shares her insight around four themes we have covered in our latest teaching-focused event “Nuts and Bolts of Teaching; Within the PhD and Beyond”. See the details here

Section One

Somia: Welcome Roxanne, tell us a bit about yourself?

Roxanne: I am a Lecturer in Psychology within the School of Education and Social Sciences, based at the Paisley campus, University of the West of Scotland. I am a Developmental/Clinical Psychologist and I mostly teach within developmental psychology, introduction to psychology courses, research methods, and mental health. I also co-ordinate and teach on a new module that I developed for final year undergraduate students, ‘the Psychology of Human-Animal Interactions’. My research interests largely focus on the benefits of animals and the human-animal bond for health, happiness, and mental wellbeing across the lifespan and the role of animals within adverse environments (e.g. domestic abuse, child, and pet abuse). I am keen to raise public interest and knowledge in, and academic awareness of, the important roles that animals play within people’s lives and society. Therefore, I have launched The Science of Pets with the mission of facilitating public engagement with research into human-animal relationships and for sharing the latest research findings (

Somia: Would you like to tell us about your academic career so far?

Roxanne: I obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc Hons) from Bangor University in 2011 followed by a Master of Research (MRes) from the University of Roehampton in 2012. My early research included experimental, biological and behavioural techniques to study psychopathology in both human and non-human primates. I then worked as a data administrator for a medical company before moving to Edinburgh in 2014 to take on a research assistant role. I worked in collaboration with the Scottish SPCA to scientifically evaluate an animal cruelty prevention programme in schools throughout Scotland, before beginning my PhD in 2015. My PhD was focused on examining psychological factors underlying both positive and negative aspects of child-animal relationships and designing and evaluating new interventions to prevent childhood animal cruelty. Alongside my PhD, I worked as a tutor on several courses: MSc in Applied Psychology for Children and Young People, MSc in Psychology of Mental Health (Conversion), Mental Health & Well-being of Children, Young People & Families (Online Distance Learning). During my PhD I also took on several part-time research assistant roles. During the last 6 months of my PhD, I began working as a full-time Teaching Fellow (1 year maternity cover for a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology). There, I taught lectures and workshops to students within education, both at BA, MSc, PGDE, and professional training. I was Module Coordinator for Child and Adolescent Development (MSc). I also supervised dissertations and took on the role as personal tutor. Finally, I worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate for three months before commencing my current position as a Lecturer in Psychology at University of the West of Scotland in December 2018.

Somia: What are your current teaching activities and interests?

Roxanne: I teach primarily within developmental, social, and clinical psychology, but also teach specialist topics such as human-animal interactions, developmental disabilities, evolutionary psychology, and clinical interventions. I supervise BSc and MSc student’s dissertation topics that focus on human-animal relationships, but also broadly mental health related topics. For PhD supervision, I am second supervisor for topics that focus on human-animal interactions.

Somia: What differences are there when you work as a tutor, teaching fellow and lecturer?

Roxanne: All these are very different stages of an academic career. As a Course tutor, I experienced more interactive small group teaching and marking. I think that there was less responsibility and more room to develop my skills and learn from senior academics, however less autonomy as you needed to teach the material that was developed by the course organiser (even if no notes were provided!). Looking back, I was quite nervous teaching at first and didn’t really know how to teach, but I learnt a lot, especially through working towards my Associate Fellowship from the HEA (Higher Education Academy), where I spent a lot of time researching innovative and engaging teaching methods and reflecting on my own experience as I implemented what I learnt, and whether it worked well or not. I am so grateful for those early experiences and I have come a long way since those first workshops!

As a course tutor, I also took part in course development activities, for example, I developed a series of lectures for MSc students on study skills in collaboration with IAD (the Institute for Academic Development). This was great experience for learning how to develop interactive lecture material and this also gave me my first experience of teaching to a large class (100+ students) in a lecture theatre. I believe these experiences really helped me to get a teaching fellow job. As a Teaching Fellow, you get thrown in the deep end, but I really loved the job and the department, and the students were brilliant. Alongside teaching lectures and workshops, I developed teaching material, Learn sites, course handbooks, assessment material etc. I also had my first experience of running a module as Course Coordinator, my first experience as Module Moderator, and my first experience as dissertation supervisor, and personal tutor. The 1:1 student support and pastoral roles were what I enjoyed the most during this time. This post was invaluable for developing as an academic and helped me feel prepared for my first lectureship. Now as a lecturer, I have more responsibilities and am more independent; I feel more confident teaching but still always looking for ways to improve and for innovative methods and techniques to engage students and make learning fun but meaningful. As a lecturer, you also contribute more to the department and the university as a whole, such as bringing in money through grants, developing brand new courses for students to broaden the portfolio of modules available (e.g., I developed the BSc module in Psychology of Human-Animal Interactions), being an active member on things like the Research Governance Group, the REF2021 internal review panel, reviewing ethics applications, etc… I take on more leadership roles such as being Head of Year, developing and leading on modules, being course moderator, being an external examiner, being line manager to postdoctoral researchers, and being 2nd supervisor to PhD students.

“As a Course Tutor […] I think that there was less responsibility and more room to develop my skills and learn from senior academics, but less autonomy”

Somia: What type of training do you think is needed as we go up the academic ladder?


•           Course tutor: This is the time to get as much training as possible while you have fewer responsibilities and more time to actually go to training events (and these are free to students!). My advice would be to sign up for everything you have time for that your university offers. For example, at Edinburgh we went to lots of workshops through IAD on effective teaching, effective marking and feedback, developing leadership skills, teaching small and large classes, developing material, etc. This is also the perfect time to work towards your Associate Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy: this qualification is becoming one of the essential criteria when you apply for teaching fellowships and lectureships. There are different routes to gaining this qualification, I went down the personal blog/reflection route where I met my personal mentor on a regular basis who shared their expertise, and I slowly built up my portfolio of teaching and evidence-based account of practice and reflection which was assessed by an external panel. Other routes can be more formal, such as completing the Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) in teaching.

•           Teaching Fellow: This was quite similar to the above, you just have less time to commit to training events, and so my personal experience was mostly ‘learning on the job’. There are still opportunities to develop teaching skills during this time, and again it will depend on what your university offers to staff, or what free online events are available. I still signed up to as many as possible around my busy teaching schedule. You could think about working towards Fellowship of the HEA as you gain more experience.

•           Lecturer: You could think about working towards Senior Fellowship of the HEA as you take on more responsibilities. There are still some training events available, but these are not always free or affordable. Again, it will depend on your university, but most usually offer some training events and online modules to help you develop as an academic. These usually focus on wider issues rather than specific teaching methods (e.g., diversity and inclusion, student mental health and safeguarding), or personal training (e.g., leadership skills, influencing skills et.).

Section Two

Somia: What are your thoughts around engaging students with small group teaching, and what are the differences in running a small group versus a large group?

Roxanne: For small group teaching, we use a student-led approach where students are involved in problem-solving activities within smaller groups, and I facilitate the sessions. For example, we get them to create a poster, design public engagement events, develop a research study based on a grant call, put together an intervention evaluation plan, etc… I think it`s important to encourage idea sharing and to build up students` confidence in speaking in front of the class. I’ve found that students prefer to have a specific task to work on in groups, rather than have a discussion. Smaller group activities can also take place online through Teams using breakout rooms, and I found Padlet has been great for interactive group tasks. Something that I did recently during lockdown was an online ‘pub quiz’ where students were tested on what they had learnt throughout the module, but it was fun and interactive. At the start of small group sessions, I always give an overview of the topic and highlight how the workshop builds on what they have learnt so far, and at the end, I give a summary of the key things that students came up with and learnt throughout the session.

In large groups, there is more content to be covered and as such the same approach can be used with some modification. For example, I break down a lecture into small sections (20 mins each) to ensure that students don’t get fatigued; I break sections up with videos, small comfort breaks, posing questions to the class, or asking them to discuss an idea with the people sitting next to them, or get students to participate in Menti Meter which is great for posing a question to the class, and each student enters their thoughts into the phone and these pop-up on the lecture screen. This approach is student-friendly and a fun way where students can easily use their smart phones to take part. Online, I encourage students to use the chat-box to share ideas, post questions and comment on things they find interesting. I also organise live drop-in session for students, in case students want to ask questions about the lecture if they didn’t get chance to ask on the day.

“I’ve found that students prefer to have a specific task to work on in groups, rather than have a discussion”

Somia: What are your experiences of different types of feedback (peer feedback, feedback vs feed-forward) & assessments, and how students interact with feedback?

Roxanne: In feedback, I mention three strengths and three constructive comments to take forward to improve their work, with signposts to relevant resources if needed. For summative assessments, I give the marking criteria in advance so that students can use them as a checklist to mark their own work before submission. I also encourage students to swap each other’s work and give peer feedback. I show example essays from the previous year and discuss with students to what extent they agree or disagree with the given mark and feedback and how they can take that feedback forward. I organise drop-in sessions for different aspects of assessments such as choice of topic and essay structure. Students are encouraged to send me questions via email ahead of the sessions, then I make a presentation covering all those questions followed by a live Q&A session where students can discuss and ask more questions. In my opinion, this approach especially encourages students who are not comfortable to ask questions in front of others. I have also created assessment online videos that students can watch and re-watch in their own time.

Somia: What is your understanding around Roles & Responsibilities – Student mental health and how to manage that, how to facilitate inclusivity, boundaries of a tutor/lecturer?

Roxanne: If students contact us with concerns, our main role is signposting them to academic and mental health support services, and to follow up with them to ensure that they are getting the help they need. As academics, we are not trained therapists and so we have to set those boundaries early on, but we can build rapport and trust with our students so that they know that they can confide in us and come to us if they are facing difficulties, whether personal or academic, to ensure they get the help they need. Sometimes they might just want a chat and a cup of tea, but other times they need actions to be taken such as study interruptions, getting appointments with student disability advisors or getting priority appointments with counsellors, or they may need help with submitting extensions and extenuating circumstances, or need help understanding where to go to for housing or financial support. I always keep the information about the University support services handy as well as a list of external resources (e.g., mental health support) so that I can share it with my students when needed. It’s always good to keep in regular contact with students, and if you know they are struggling, ensure that you drop them a message to ask how they are doing and if they need support with anything throughout the semester. If you teach on a module and notice that a student has not attended for a while, this can be a sign that the student is struggling and so the first thing we do is contact the personal tutor to ask if they are aware of any issues and to get in contact with the student to check-in with them.

“Students are encouraged to send me questions via email ahead of drop-in sessions […] In my opinion, this approach especially encourages students who are not comfortable to ask questions in front of others”

Somia: What are your views around the Importance of CPD (Continued Professional Development), and what methods do you suggest for improving your teaching practices and evaluation of your work?

Roxanne: As I have mentioned previously, if you are interested in an academic career, it`s helpful to get a teaching qualification. I became an Associate Fellow awarded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) during my PhD (For details see here). When you apply for an academic job, they ask whether you have this teaching qualification and so it`s better to complete at least the Associate Fellow category alongside the PhD. I think as a PhD student it`s easy to make time for CPD activities than as a lecturer. Therefore, try to attend as many training workshops as you can during your PhD. Now I want to do the Senior Fellow category, but it seems difficult to make time for it because of my teaching commitments. As I said, I attended various IAD workshops that helped me develop my skills and learn from more experienced tutors early on. It`s the best way to learn new and innovative teaching methods.

Somia: Finally, one piece of advice you would like to give to early career academics?

Roxanne: Don’t give up, if you are passionate and determined you will be successful in whatever you choose to do. Get involved in as many different activities that you can to develop a wide set of skills. I know they say ‘you should learn to say no’ which is important in some circumstances, but I’ve learnt that it was from saying ‘yes!’ to opportunities that helped me gain the skills and experience I needed to land my first permanent position.

Somia: Many thanks Roxanne for sharing your experience with us!

Roxanne: Thank you for having me and I hope people will find my experience helpful.

Tutoring and Teaching Blog, Part 2: How do we get better?

Welcome to the second instalment of a two-part blog series on teaching (see Part 1 here) written by ScotDPN’s own Kiyoshi and Raahat. In this post, they discuss tips for improving one’s teaching practice.

In the second part of this series, we address an often-overlooked aspect of teaching; Working on getting better. As tutors we feel it is essential that we look to evaluate our methods and learn ways to make our teaching better and to reach more students effectively. In this part we will talk about steps you can take to improve your teaching and why you should do it.

While institutions have different points within the course for when ‘formal feedback’ is collected, it is important for the tutor to collect regular feedback after every tutorial. A small “How did you find today’s material?” at the start or end of the tutorial tends to go a long way in developing student engagement throughout the course. Being open and accessible to student feedback is important not only for the students, but also for the tutors since they then get to tailor next week’s tutorial based on the student feedback. This shows that students are being heard and their feedback is taken into serious consideration. It also gives the course organiser an impression that the tutor is quick on their feet which lessens their own burden of engaging with students for smaller issues, which improves one’s chances of moving up the academic ladder as far as teaching is considered.

A small “How did you find today’s material?” at the start or end of the tutorial tends to go a long way in developing student engagement throughout the course.

Kiyoshi: I have been teaching for 4 years now and I can honestly say that my teaching has evolved considerably from when I started. Part of this is confidence, part of it is also the various types of Continued Professional Development (CPD) – a fancy term for reflecting upon your practices and working at getting better. I took on CPD to get more competent about my methods and the ways I was engaging my students. The key change that I have noticed though is that I have more options to teach than I ever had before. Pretty early on in your teaching you will notice that different groups react completely differently to identical tasks or prompts. Most first-time tutors tend to strictly stick to the guidelines provided by the course organiser; however, the actual tutorial may be quite different from what has been envisioned during the planning stages. For example, if the attendance is low on any day, it is important to address the reasons along with conducting a course in a way which is conducive to all. So, I feel as though I have an overall learning outcome as my goal but can use different methods to achieve that. Having a repertoire of different engagement tasks like action learning sets, debates, quizzes can help you to make sure the outcome you are trying to achieve in the tutorial is best for the group that you are speaking to. It is important to remember that the experience of a course organiser conducting a particular module is vastly different to that of a tutor. While the course organiser conceptualises the material, the tutor carries out the actual execution of the material within the cohort. And understanding that difference helps to manage one’s own expectation of their own teaching practices.

The key change I have noticed though is that I have more options to each than I ever had before.

That being said, the impact of the past year cannot be ignored, and teaching practices definitely have not been isolated from the uncertainty. This has been the first year that I (Kiyoshi) have had to move all my teaching online. Most of all, I have noticed how hard it is to gauge engagement from my students. I am finding it really hard to see what is sticking and what is not sticking with the students in terms of materials. As a result, I am constantly afraid that the techniques I am using are not clicking with the students. This has made me use tried and tested techniques in terms of teaching, instead of being more experimental like I have previously been. On the other hand, I have found that students can use different methods to engage, so students can use chat instead of speaking out, students can also throw up emoticons to indicate their understanding or how they feel about material. Finally, I am admittedly awful with remembering names, so with online learning, I can ask students by name which is great.

Raahat: As far my (Raahat) teaching experience is concerned, I only started tutoring during the pandemic and there was a hustle revolving around the hybrid teaching model for the first semester I taught, but the majority of teaching has been online (as have other activities). It is unnervingly harder to teach online than in person, because a tutor loses the opportunity to establish personal rapport with the student along with expressing their ideas through their body language. Most students are comfortable with turning their videos off, however, it is harder to establish a comfortable relationship as you feel you are speaking into a vacuum. It is important for tutors to acknowledge that technical glitches can occur every step of the way, turning videos on and assisting students with general housekeeping when it comes to facilitating discussions is the best way a tutor can help students to virtually engage with the course. Apart from that, an email is the best and most dependable option to communicate in cases when the attendance starts to stagger. While the pandemic has increased the reach for a tutor, creating an illusion of a classroom is not an easy one!

It is important for tutors to acknowledge that technical glitches can occur every step of the way

At the end of day our goal is always to make sure that we are doing the best for our students, and evaluating your methods and reflecting upon your practices is the best way to do that. It is important for us to remain open to feedback from different sources and understand that our teaching, much like academia in general is constantly evolving and can always improve and be done better.

Interested in learning more about teaching in academia? Check out ScotDPN’s next online event, “The nuts and bolts of teaching: during your PhD and beyond”, to be held on Friday the 9th of July, from 3-5pm. A panel of lecturers, teaching fellows and PhD students from around Scotland will share their experiences of teaching and how COVID-19 impacted their practice. Topics discussed will include: engaging students with small group teaching; feedback and assessments; roles and responsibilities in teaching positions, e.g. facilitating mental health, inclusivity…and the importance of continued professional development within teaching. The panel will be followed by a practical workshop aimed at tackling common challenges as a tutor. Registration is, as usual, free, and an Eventbrite sign-up will be circulated shortly. Spread the word, and come along!

Behind the Tutor’s Podium: A nuanced insight into understanding the role of tutoring

Hi all, we bring to you a two-part blog post about the role of teaching and tutoring whilst doing a PhD. The individual blogs will cover the overarching roles and responsibilities of teaching followed by techniques on improving teaching practices. This blog series is a juxtaposition of two separate experiences of two tutors within the same university. It is an amalgamation of different ideas converging into the impact of the pandemic on current tutoring techniques.

Part 1: What does it mean to be a tutor?

In this first part, we talk about being a tutor and what that means. We will cover some tips about being a tutor, why we think it is important and what we can do to make sure we are getting better. As a PhD student, gaining academic experience is one of the most obvious choices you will make, especially since many PhDs eventually follow an academic career. Academic experience can not only mean research-related collaborations, but perhaps more importantly, teaching. Teaching or tutoring enhances your professional development and is also a great way to gain insight into the opportunities available for PhD graduates after they complete their studies. Now, one might not want to go down the teaching route after their PhD’s! So, why add to your precious and severely crunched schedule for something that might not resonate with you?!?

“As tutors we occupy the valley between students and lecturers”

On entering a programme as extensive as that of a PhD, you already have a fair amount of knowledge and expertise of the discipline and research within the field. After all, you have spent a substantial chunk of your lives studying and combing through the fine print of the literature! But being a tutor requires you to get involved with a topic from the other side of the metaphorical desk. Most of the responsibilities involved within tutoring are to conduct and facilitate guided discussions and orient the student towards the broader topic at hand. As tutors we occupy the valley between students and lecturers. We hold a unique place in the larger world of academia; not so far away from students that we have lost touch with their experiences, but still far enough away to have the knowledge and expertise to introduce them to new ideas and ways of thinking. Think of it like being part of the cohort instead of simply feeding concepts to them. The best tutors establish a positive dynamic within the group and promote a healthy interest within the course. Every tutor starts off with an expectation of being an elbow patch tweed-adorning academic, but that is not the responsibility of being a tutor. Being a tutor is about engaging with the students, coming to their levels of understanding without patronising them. Speaking with them, instead of to or at them; using the royal ‘We’ as opposed to ‘You’ and ‘I’ is important to establish a healthy atmosphere between us and the students.

As tutors, we engage with different students from all over the world; with varying backgrounds and levels of expertise. This can be a huge amount of responsibility for a tutor, especially if they might be an international student themselves. Teaching a diverse group of students can introduce you to many different perspectives that you may not have considered. Starting as an international tutor myself, I (Raahat) believe it was important for me to understand the different requirements of each cohort, each module, every different week. There is no ‘one size fits all’ framework when it comes to teaching an international cohort, and even though the course organiser might come up with extensive guidelines, a tutor needs to be spontaneous in meeting the demands of the students. I (Kiyoshi) always consider myself lucky to be challenged by opinions and viewpoints which come out from left field, and it is our responsibility as tutors to encourage and foster that in our students. Therefore, our teaching must always be catered towards providing an equal learning environment for all our students – one where they feel comfortable sharing ideas, talking things out and understanding the material together.

There is a tendency for first-time tutors to over-commit to certain responsibilities. However, promising the moon and stars is not beneficial for either the students or themselves.

Tutors are also the first point of contact between the staff and the students, so you may find yourself addressing questions and issues which fall outside your responsibilities. These are difficult situations where you want to be able to help the student, but you do not want to take on extra responsibilities which you may not be prepared for. For example, you wouldn’t want to take on the role of a personal tutor or supervisor. My advice for when something like this happens is to acknowledge the student’s issue, but be completely honest and say you do not have the access or authority to help them in that way. There is a tendency for first-time tutors to over-commit to certain responsibilities. However, promising the moon and stars is not beneficial for either the students or themselves. You should set respectable boundaries, whilst keeping open channels of communication. You can offer to be a medium to express concerns anonymously to course organisers or the student’s personal tutor, but you must be careful that you are not taking on that role consistently.

It is important to be extremely aware of signs of students going through a tough time. I (Kiyoshi) think that more than ever, we tutors are the ones who see students face to face more than any other staff member. This means that if you notice something off about a student, take time to make sure you are addressing this. This could be just emailing them and asking how they are doing or chatting to them after the tutorial. Be mindful that you are not putting said student under a spotlight as that might make things uncomfortable for them. I (Kiyoshi) have been lucky enough to receive some formal training on recognising stress-like symptoms, but many universities do not give you that opportunity. However I do feel that this can make a real difference to your student’s lives along with having a positive impact on the delivery of your course. A tutor can usually get access to a myriad of training programs and workshops designed to facilitate better teaching techniques, involve students within the course and prioritise their needs. Among these training opportunities are the courses organised by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), which are becoming more important for getting noticed by potential employers. Many organisations are now encouraging their teaching faculty to get HEA accreditation to standardise teaching practices within the UK.

Being a tutor is definitely a rewarding experience but being transient is what makes that experience enjoyable for students. Part 2 of our blog series will talk about how to improve teaching practices.

Reflections of ScotDPN members on presenting to education practitioners

In December 2020 Rita and Heather (two ScotDPN members) presented about their research to a Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCO) group in England. The event was attended by 67 practitioners from across 30 schools. In this blog, Rita and Heather reflect on this experience. 

How did this opportunity come up? 

Heather: I was approached by email with an enquiry to present. Through some discussion, I learnt that the teachers came across a blog that Rita and I wrote together about promoting metacognition and Executive Functions in the classroom. The beginnings of this blog started back in 2017 when we met for the first time at a ScotDPN networking event! 

Rita: When I just started my PhD 3 years ago, Heather and I met at a ScotDPN networking event . As someone that can get a little bit anxious, I was dreading having to meet new people to say the least. Heather and I were put in a pair together as our research interests were quite similar. We brainstormed some ideas around writing a blog on applying metacognition and Executive Functions in the classroom context. We took each other’s details and quickly sailed between emails, to social media, and chats over coffee.  Fast forward to a few months ago (and following a few other fun collaborative activities) we were approached by some teachers who were interested in us doing a talk on the topic of our work.

Can you tell us a little about the presentation? 

Heather: For my part of the presentation, I talked about metacognition – what this looks like in the classroom, some of my research relating to metacognition in primary schools, and some ideas for promoting metacognition in educational contexts.  

Rita: I spoke about what we mean by Executive Functions, giving examples of how they can translate into everyday behaviour and activities within the school context. I also got the chance to skim through some important areas of research which have demonstrated the importance of Executive Functions to children’s academic success and well-being. I then wrapped up by giving some evidence-based tips on how to help children that struggle with their Executive Functions. 

What was it like to present in an online format? 

Heather: Before this year, I hadn’t delivered an online presentation, and it is great to have learnt more about how this works. I’m hoping online presentations are something that continues as it is a fantastic way of presenting and meeting others over long distances. The main challenge for me was not knowing how the audience was reacting as I presented, as you don’t have the same opportunities for back and forth discussion. There are also some clear benefits to the online format – the main point for me being that it forces you to be even clearer about key points! 

Rita: Nerve wracking! It was my first digital live Q&A and I was a little bit nervous. Reflecting back I think I could have answered some questions a bit more coherently, but as they say – practice makes perfect, so I’m looking forward to applying this experience in future talks.   

Do you have any advice for anyone that might be interested in presenting about their research? 

Heather: Say yes to opportunities if/when they come up – it was a pleasure to talk about research and discuss this with experts from education.   

Rita: Do it! I found the whole process extremely rewarding, and I think it was especially great because it was done in a collaborative fashion which meant that I also got to learn a lot from Heather’s presentations style. It was also such a great opportunity to get to speak to over 60 attendees who were directly working to support the populations that my research is interested in. 

Interested in getting involved in something similar? Book a place on our upcoming event which is open to all post-graduate researchers and early career academics with an interest in developmental psychology and allied fields. The event will take place on the 22nd of January via Zoom.

PhD Reflections: What I wish I had known? What there is to look forward to?


1.dundee Josh (Final Year PhD Student)

What I wish I had known?

I had a somewhat Napoleonic style of deciding how to conduct my studies “ones’ engage et puis on voit”. This meant that I often did not spend enough time thinking about the best way to evaluate my research questions. I wish I had known that I would have to provide strong justifications for every decision I made in the future. You’re not expected to do things perfectly, but I wish I had taken a bit more time to plan my studies more rigorously so that I had a strong reason for everything I did.

What there is to look forward to?

If you go into academia, you will always end up meeting people who are smarter than you. This is one of the best things, in my opinion. You share a department with experienced researchers and teachers, who have thought long and hard about what they do and who are passionate about their work. I am constantly learning because I am fortunate enough to be spending time with such knowledgeable people. It’s humbling, and that’s a good thing. Constantly learning from one’s colleagues reminds us that science is, and should always be a communal effort.


2. 01-standard-colour-750x330Gideon (Final Year PhD Student)

What I wish I’d known?

I think for me I wish I’d had a better sense of just how long the wait can be with a PhD. Throughout Undergrad and Masters, you’re getting constant feedback- that essay was good, that exam could have gone better. But with a PhD, even with the support of a supervisor, there can be a nagging feeling of “is this actually going to work out”? The best advice I can give is 1) celebrate the small milestones- experiment designed, participant complete – as it’ll remind you you’re making progress. And 2), keep plodding! If you try and keep your whole PhD in your head at once, it’ll make it seem like an unassailable monolith. But focus most of all on what you’re doing in the next few months, and it’ll feel that much more surmountable!

What there is to look forward to?

I have particularly enjoyed working with the participants in my research – I think you can’t really do developmental psychology if you don’t enjoy working with people, whether that’s infants, children, adolescents or adults. My participants are 6 – 10-month-old babies and their mothers. It’s a real privilege to work with them- to get to know the babies and to watch them grow and change, and to get to know the mums too. It’s a rare thing to get to know such a range of people and families – so whoever it is you’re working with, be grateful for that opportunity, and enjoy it while it lasts!


3.Sri-Lanka-Sponsor Heather (Recent PhD Graduate)

What I wish I’d known?

The most important thing that I learnt during my PhD was how important the team around you is. For some, this is the supervisory or research team, but this can also mean colleagues in the department, peers or external connections. For me, this was a network of critical friends and field experts that I grew to know throughout my project. By the end of my PhD, I had developed a network of individuals inside and outside of my inter-disciplinary field (spanning psychology and education), including fellow PhD students, academics from other universities, educational psychologists and teachers. If I could go back, I would seek out these connections even sooner, knowing how truly influential these discussions were in the development of my thoughts and ideas.

What there is to look forward to?

There are so many things to look forward to when undertaking a PhD. For me, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the PhD experience was the wider academic activities associated: from attending Summer Schools (those in Scottish universities working in the social sciences I definitely recommend getting involved with the SGSSS), to broadening experience with teaching in Higher Education, to getting involved with exciting new networking activities (such as the ScotDPN!).


4. Lu (First Year PhD Student)download

What I wish I’d known?

Being a first year PhD student, it is challenging to change the perspective of a student to a “researcher”. Unlike the study experience that I have done, the PhD journey is a kind of academic isolation, as each PhD student has their own focused field and different research methods. Also, being confident and determined are both necessary for PhD students, which could be helpful to transfer from the role of a student to a real researcher. Thus, the understanding of how to become a researcher is essential to get started with a PhD. I wish that I had known how to build confidence for doing my PhD.

What there is to look forward to?

I look forward to getting clear guidance from my supervisors and learning how to self-guide my PhD.


5. Kiyoshi (Final Year PhD Student)download

What I wish I’d known?

In the final year of my PhD, I am quickly realising that what I wish I knew was that the final year will be a really hard grind. In the first two years, you are making enormous amounts of progress from both your studies and your write up and you cover a lot of ground. In the final year of write up however, I get the feeling that I am making incremental changes to my writing. Changing one line here and two lines there. As a result, sometimes I do ask myself whether I am actually doing anything. This is not unique to me and is the nature of a PhD; grind it out and the loot at the end will be worth it.

What there is to look forward to?

What I gained most of all was a clear sense of my strengths and my weaknesses. A PhD will make you question a lot of things about yourself, and the personal growth it affords is incredible. Although hard at times, and sometimes demoralising, at the end of it all you learn about yourself. This growth not only helps you in your personal life but also your professional one. If you were unsure of what to do and how to take your career forward like I was, your experiences throughout your PhD make it crystal clear what you will really enjoy and what you won’t.


6. Somia (Recent PhD Graduate) download

What I wish I’d known?

For me, my PhD was like discovering and developing myself in many ways. I did not know that I could work better under pressure and with tight deadlines. I did not know that I would enjoy working with different teams. Maybe if I knew my strengths earlier I might have achieved more! What I have learnt over time that in the academic world at times things knock us off our feet and make us question our abilities and worth. To encounter this, it`s important not to take things personally and short recovery time after having a bad experience is essential.

What there is to look forward to?

Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and to learn valuable life lessons and skills. You will meet with many great people who will contribute to your journey in a variety of ways, some will inspire you to carry on, even when it gets hard and some will challenge you to grow. Finally, being an authentic self both in life and in work will make your PhD journey so much enlightening as people will trust you when you are your true self and relate to you if you try to walk a mile in their shoes.


7. Aigli (2nd Year PhD Student)download

What I wish I had known?

Flexibility is definitely an advantage when doing a PhD but it can also be a trap! In my experience, productivity usually comes with a routine. It doesn’t have to be Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. You are still free to explore what works best for you, but it’s important to set a working pattern, otherwise, procrastination becomes your long-term best friend and you end up doing everything else but your PhD work. Prioritisation is also a key. Remember that you are allowed to say ‘no’. You don’t have to take every opportunity and responsibility offered to you. To-do lists and supervision agendas/minutes can also help to keep you on track.

What there is to look forward to?

You are going to have tons of questions! I’d say it’s the content rather than the number of questions that change over time. Supervisors can sometimes get really busy and your questions may not be their priority, but don’t despair. You are part of a community, a very inspiring and talented community that most probably have the same questions at your stage so they feel your agony and most of the times they are very eager to share their experiences and knowledge with you. Take the most out of being a member of this community!


8. Hasan (First Year PhD Student)download

What I wish I had known?

Before starting a PhD program, I felt that I was ready to undertake extra work and make a commitment to a challenging Doctorate program. In addition, I was sure that getting my Doctorate degree from the department would provide me with the necessary qualifications and capacity to become an able academic. However, I did not implement time management and integrity in my daily routine. In my first year, I did not adapt to the heavy schedule at some points. When I considered the beginning of my PhD, I realized my mistake that was considering the PhD similar to my MSc program. As you know, while studying on the MSc program, all deadlines, courses and workshops time is specifically scheduled in the year. Nevertheless, the scheduling on your PhD program process is not specified, therefore, you need to identify and schedule your own study. Realising this, I started to look at my original plan and to identify my goals, which developed my academic skills and enabled me to implement my PhD proposal. Also, I reminded and encouraged myself that PhD is my business and library is my workplace. For this reason, I began to study in the library at official business hours. Then I realized my path was getting clear. I would like to mention a famous quote at the end of my writing that contributed to and helped me designing my first year PhD study, which is

Plans are nothing, but planning is everything”.


Thinking Impact- an upcoming ScotDPN event

This blog post is slightly different from usual: instead of telling you about something that has happened over the last month or two, the ScotDPN group would like to inform you about our next event scheduled for the end of May!

Some broad details first – on Thursday the 30th of May, the ScotDPN group will host an interdisciplinary workshop on the theme of impact at the University of Dundee. Starting at 11 am, we’ll kick off with some presentations from invited speakers on impact and interdisciplinary work. We’ll then have practical activities throughout the day to help attendees work out how to implement impact into their own work. At 3:15 pm we’ll close and there will be a social event to unwind.

We chose the theme of impact for a number of reasons, but mainly because it’s an important aspect of research in academia, particularly with REF 2021 looming on the horizon. Researchers are increasingly being asked to consider how their work is benefiting the public, for instance by producing actionable outputs to the field and society in general. Yet in spite of a growing literature on the topic, it can be quite easy for early-career researchers to feel uneasy about tackling ‘impact’. Journals have impact factors, but people as far back as Seglen (1997) have argued that impact factors can be quite misleading. So how do you decide if your work is impactful? Are there specific fields where impact is more easily attainable? Is there a place for research done ‘for fun’? It is these sorts of questions that we will aim to tackle on the day. Laura Bates from the University of St Andrews will provide a general introduction to the concept of impact, and Lynne Duncan from the University of Dundee will describe an impact case study.

At ScotDPN we decided that we would approach the concept of impact from an interdisciplinary perspective. Good inter-disciplinarity is a smorgasbord for potential research, but first, you need to get what people from a different field care about. Likewise, you need to explain your own concerns to people who might not know anything about your topic. As such the event at Dundee will include individuals from various fields – predominantly psychology, but also from the arts, humanities, philosophy and education. One of our speakers, Patrick Levy, is a phenomenologist who will tell us about his experience teaching philosophy to Art students from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. It is our hope that attendees will find a new way of thinking about their research, and be equipped to make good choices about the direction of their future work.

Planning your research takes time and effort, so the more training you get the better. ScotDPN wants to support early-career folks in learning useful skills to do some mad science in the future (‘mad’ as in ‘awesome’, not the ‘take over the world’ type…). Impact and inter-disciplinarity are good concepts to learn about, and we hope this event inspires our attendees to think up some great projects. See you there!


The ScotDPN Team

We are online in the BPS’ The Psychologist!

This is very exciting! Some of our team have been writing an article for the BPS’ The Psychologist on ‘Growing a PhD student and Post-doc network‘ and it was published online last week. We tried to balance useful advice for the world out there and a little shameless self-promotion, as well as single and multiple authorship. We hope we got it right. Let us know your feedback!

With this in mind, we thoroughly recommend co-writing with your peers. For us, it has been an enjoyable, encouraging and sociable activity. And Jon, the editor of The Psychologist, has made publishing this article an easy process.

Enjoy the read!

Dos and Don’ts of research with children – Part 2: Getting technical

This is part 2 of dos and don’ts of doing research with children with some more excellent advice from Joshua and Kiyoshi. Should you reward your little participants with sweets? Well, … it depends! Let’s hear it:

In our previous blog, we spoke about various issues that can arise when designing a study or collecting data with children. In this blog, we provide some more tips for running experiments and what to do once you have collected your data. The issues we discuss here have all happened to us at some point or another. We hope our advice will be of use to you!

Collecting data

SETTING UP YOUR STUDY. One of the things particularly challenging during a research project one of us conducted was setting up the study in different contexts. That is, where you run the study can often change from one time to the next (schools, nurseries or any other place). This becomes difficult because institutions will have different facilities that may limit your original idea or place restrictions on your proposed design. For example, while some schools have an empty room in which you can conduct the testing, at other times you might find yourself sharing a school library space with other activities going on in the background. This becomes particularly difficult when trying to administer an assessment with lots of materials on a rather short child-sized table! Our advice would be to always plan ahead and contact different locations and, if possible, try to find a design that will suit all of the locations. Not only will this ensure that you stay true to your aims and research questions, but it will also make it easy for you to run the studies as smoothly as possible. One study that we conducted required creating a situation where each child had their individual play space but could also easily interact with each other’s toys. Each school had to be contacted ahead of the testing session to ensure that they had a space that could accommodate this design. Never underestimate the importance of the physical space where you will conduct your study.

SHOULD YOU REWARD CHILDREN? There is quite a controversy over whether researchers should reward children for doing a study.  For one thing, the type of reward used may influence the way children respond. Terrell & Kennedy (1957) found that rewarding children with candy helped them succeed on a forced-choice task more quickly than receiving a token or being either praised or berated. Another example comes from one of our studies where we worked with children with ASD. We planned to give children chocolates as a token to thank them for participating in the research. However, we made the mistake of letting them know beforehand that chocolates were coming. As soon as they came into the room, some children went straight for the chocolates and completely forgot that they had to do the task first. One way to get around this could be to conceal the chosen rewards until after the study is completed.


Other than the type of reward, it can also raise problems when you reward children. For example, one playgroup team agreed to let a group of psychology students run their research projects with children in their playgroup. The students thanked the children for their participation by letting them choose from a range of colourful stickers. It seemed like the perfect system. But eventually, the playgroup staff noticed that children were behaving worse when the students were testing them. It turned out that the children who were not getting stickers that day got upset when other children got stickers. They would then cry and act out for the rest of the day.

These examples illustrate that rewarding your young participants needs to be considered carefully. We are not suggesting that you should not thank the children you work with – you definitely should! But it is important to think about how the reward will impact children during and after the study. For experiments run in playgroups or nurseries, for example, one solution might be to thank the child after their session and then give the entire class a reward once the study is done. A reward could include a box of sweets or a sheet of stickers given to staff for them to distribute to all children at snack time. In this way no-one feels left out!

Analysing your data

EVALUATING RESULTS. It is difficult when there is no standardised method for testing the effect that you are looking for. This is especially true when working in a new area of research where no standardised measures exist. For example, in the relatively new field of technology-assisted interventions for children with ASD, a review by Fletcher-Watson (2014) found that there was no standardised methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of technology-use in promoting children’s communication. Instead, previous research used several different questionnaires which made it extremely difficult to compare results. One of us has found this problematic when collecting and analysing video data of children with ASD. Because previous researchers created their own definition of what comprises communication behaviour and, thus, designed their own coding scheme to evaluate video data, it was difficult to choose an appropriate measure for one’s own study. For example, While it is important to develop a research design that adopts definitions from previous literature, this example here shows that this can be challenging. One of us addressed this by using an existing definition and coding scheme that was closest to helping him answer his research question and, then, adding elements to it without changing the original test. This now allows to compare outcomes to other similar studies while adding unique insight into technology-assisted communication of children with ASD.


WHAT IS THE MECHANISM? If you observe a developmental trend in your data, it is important to think about why it occurs. It is one thing to describe an age-related change in children’s performance on a task – it is another to explain why this change is happening. Giving a reason for developmental change is important as it allows us to predict what else should be changing during the period in question. For example, a common finding is that children are more likely to faithfully imitate a model’s irrelevant actions with age (McGuigan, Makinson, & Whiten, 2011; Moraru, Gomez, & McGuigan, 2016; Whiten et al., 2016). One theory argues that children become more likely to imitate for social reasons as they get older. Therefore, they become more likely to imitate irrelevant actions because they want to affiliate with the model (Clay, Over, & Tennie, 2018; Over & Carpenter, 2012), and so they do what they do even if it is ‘silly’. If this theory is true then we would expect this growing desire to socialise with others to appear in other ways. For example, children would perhaps be more likely to affiliate with strangers in cooperative settings, or would show a growing fear of being socially excluded. Describing the mechanism behind the change, thus, provides a series of predictions that can be followed up in further studies.

As our examples show, children can often be unpredictable.  Therefore, it is not possible to control absolutely everything when running a study with children. There will be limits as to what you can do. For this very reason, your studies with children need to be well thought out to reduce at least some of this unpredictability. Do your research beforehand to find out what is possible and what is not. Have a reason for the choices you make about your design and analysis. We hope we highlighted useful solutions to challenges that could arise before, during, and after your testing! And we hope this will make your research with children both easier and enjoyable.



  • Clay, Z., Over, H., & Tennie, C. (2018). What drives young children to over-imitate? Investigating the effects of age, context, action type, and transitivity. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166, 520–534.
  • Fletcher-Watson, S. (2014). A Targeted Review of Computer-Assisted Learning for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Towards a Consistent Methodology. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1(2), 87–100.
  • McGuigan, N., Makinson, J., & Whiten, A. (2011). From over-imitation to super-copying: Adults imitate causally irrelevant aspects of tool use with higher fidelity than young children. British Journal of Psychology, 102(1), 1–18.
  • Moraru, C. A., Gomez, J. C., & McGuigan, N. (2016). Developmental changes in the influence of conventional and instrumental cues on over-imitation in 3- to 6-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 145, 34–47.
  • Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2012). Putting the social into social learning: Explaining both selectivity and fidelity in children’s copying behavior. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126(2), 182–192.
  • Terrell, G., & Kennedy, W. A. (1957). Discrimination Learning and Transposition in Children as a Function of the Nature of the Reward. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53(4), 257–260.
  • Whiten, A., Allan, G., Devlin, S., Kseib, N., Raw, N., & McGuigan, N. (2016). Social learning in the real-world: “Over-imitation” occurs in both children and adults unaware of participation in an experiment and independently of social interaction. PLoS ONE, 11(7), 1–14.

The Do’s and Don’ts of designing and conducting research with children

This is an exciting and valuable piece of writing! We are really pleased that Joshua, Rita and Kiyoshi documented their do’s and don’ts when conducting research with children. Because their insights are so numerous, we will present a first part here, with the second part soon to follow. Their blog post idea developed during our knowledge exchange event in March 2018 in Stirling when we engaged our attendees in a collaborative writing activity. Get ready for doing research with kids!:

The dawn of developmental psychology can be traced back to the 1800’s when The Mind of the Child by Wilhelm Preyer (1882) was published.  In what can be considered as the first rigorous developmental piece, Preyer uses a methodical approach to study and describe the development of his daughter from birth to two and a half years. But how rigorous is ‘rigorous’? Fast forward 200 years and it seems that we, as developmental psychologists, are still racking our brains on the best approach to study young minds. We’ve been there ourselves and collected some insights on the way that we wish to share here.

If you are worried about your research boat sinking, look no further. This blog presents some do’s and don’ts of developmental study design and helps you swim against the current of methodological flaws in the field.

Should you adapt an existing resource (like an adult test) or design a new one?

When designing your experiment, a crucial question to ask is whether to design your own tasks or use an existing resource. Things differ from case to case, but here are some tips from our own experience.

If you adapt an existing resource, think about the population it was designed for. A test designed for adults may need simplifying e.g. by adding clearer instructions or phrasing the task as a game. Sobel and Munro (2006) turned the typical ‘blicket detector task’ into a game involving ‘Mr Blicket’ for using with 3-year-olds. Additionally, pre-schoolers struggle to stay focussed on one activity for a long time. I once heard a cognitive lecturer ask a student to test pre-schoolers on the same shape-matching task for 60 minutes, because “that’s how long the task takes with adults”! If you must collect data for a long time, maybe add filler tasks to help children rest.

If you decide to make your own assessment, you need to make sure it tests what you want it to test (i.e. good conceptual validity). Look at previous papers investigating the same concept that you’re interested in. What are they asking children to do? What problems can you see with what they are doing? When you have your assessment ready, seek feedback on it, and not just from academic colleagues. Ask nursery staff and children what they think: Is the task too complicated? Do children engage with it? Running pilot studies to identify potential issues will only strengthen your design.

Getting children involved early

This is easier said than done. There are far too many examples of researchers designing a study they assume will work, only for it to fall flat when testing it. For example, in designing technology for children with ASD a common problem is the failure of the intervention to mirror “real-world” environments (Porayska-Pomsta et al., 2012). Researchers from this project ECHOES (a gold standard in inclusive and interdisciplinary research practices) illustrated that, as a result of not involving their target population at a design level, most of these studies fell short of translating research outcomes to real world situations. By contrast, a participatory design (i.e., involving your target population in the design stages of your study) would have ensured that, particularly, interventions translate to real-world outcomes. While I did not have the resources available to implement this in my own research, I can share with you some recommendations.

Treat children as a population you do not fully understand. By getting them or their guardians involved early on in the design process of the study you will become more familiar with their behaviours and thought processes thus avoiding pitfalls. You can do so by testing your basic ideas for your study design with one or two children, a group of them, or their guardians and in a smaller setting before you start recruiting for your actual study. You would be surprised at the number of things they would bring to your attention! In my study for example, there was an app that simply did not work with the children. They simply refused to play it. If I had been able to test them earlier in the design process, I could have swapped it for another app that worked better.  Taking these steps will depend on your resources (e.g., funding), of course. Where these are available, your participants’ early contributions will make your study stronger.

pexels-photo-1001914_group of children eating at table

Adapting your approach and manner of communication

There are a number of things you can do to help make data collection go a bit smoother. Firstly, spend some time playing with the children. Five to ten minutes at the start of the day interacting with the children helps them get used to you and allows you to learn how they behave. Secondly, have a child-friendly script prepared. Your instructions need to make sense so avoid complicated language – use simple statements (“It’s your turn now”) or direct questions (“Can you get the marble out?”). If your task involves a lot of instructions, why not add a control question to check children have followed everything (in the classic False-Belief task, researchers often test children’s memory halfway through the story to make sure they remember what has happened so far). You should also have prompts to regain the child’s attention should they get distracted e.g. “Tom! Can you look at this?” or, if they interrupt you, “That’s really interesting, but can you watch this just now?”. Chances are that they will want to talk to you about their latest holiday or their new Spiderman socks (who wouldn’t?). So make sure you can steer the conversation back to the task in a firm but friendly way.

This may sound like a lot to think about, but these issues come out very clearly when you begin testing. To avoid being caught off guard, why not run through the study with someone pretending to be a stroppy child. Usually you will want someone else helping you out with data collection for coding purposes (e.g. a naïve coder taking notes or manning a camera) or for safeguarding purposes (so that a child is never left alone with one adult). Even if you don’t have a research assistant, having someone practice your study with you helps figure out how to phrase your script without giving away too much.

Importance of collecting qualitative data

Developmental research with children often takes place within a very structured setting. For example, looked at children’s lie-telling behaviour by asking them not to peek at a toy while a researcher left the room. Video observations revealed that children’s verbal accounts were not always true. The researchers concluded that children’s lie-telling was linked to social and cognitive factors. However, how many times do you remember having to lie to a researcher as a child in a small room? Probably never! Therefore, conclusions from such research may not reflect real world behaviour. Lie-telling behaviour is context dependent and I bet if asked about your last white lie you would probably provide an in-depth explanation as to your thoughts about, attitudes towards, and motivations behind that lie. This is where qualitative data comes into play. Asking children questions about their impressions, opinions and views on the study following completion can help a researcher to get a more in-depth understanding of 1) why they really behaved the way they did and 2) whether there is something about the experiment itself that’s driving the outcome behaviour.  If we are, after all, seeking the truth then our research needs to extend beyond numbers and quantifications.

pexels-photo-1148998_child with paint on hands

Ethics, ethics, ethics…

Giving children a voice is not exclusive to after the study is completed. Giving children a voice before and during the study is a MUST. Children’s right to articulate their views about any matters that concern them is recognised by the UN convention of the Rights of the Child. Additionally, the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) code of ethics lays out fundamental ethical principles in research with children. These include informed consent, accompanied by full understanding of what consenting means, and the right to withdraw from the study. Children’s agency and autonomy should always be respected by gaining voluntary consent at the beginning as well as during a study visit in language that matches their level of understanding. Just because the child consented at the beginning does not mean that they want to continue throughout. Because of the power imbalance between the children and the researcher, it is important to be aware of, and responsive to, any verbal and nonverbal signs that imply the child does not wish to take part.  So if you’re looking for some extra reading then the BPS code of ethics is a good start.



  • Preyer, W. T. (1888). The mind of the child: Observations concerning the mental development of the human being in the first years of life (Vol. 7). D. Appleton and Company.
  • Sobel, D. M., & Munro, S. (2006, August). When Mr Blicket wants it, children are Bayesian. In Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 810-816).
  • Yeung, L. (1998, January). UN convention on the rights of the child. In SIGGRAPH electronic art and animation catalog (p. 180). British Psychological Society. (2006). Code of ethics and conduct. BPS.
  • Talwar, V., & Lee, K. (2008). Social and cognitive correlates of children’s lying behavior. Child development79(4), 866-881.
  • Porayska-Pomsta, K., Frauenberger, C., Pain, H., Rajendran, G., Smith, T., Menzies, R., … Lemon, O. (2012). Developing technology for autism: An interdisciplinary approach. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 16(2), 117–127.

Making connections in Stirling

On 23rd of March 2018, we hosted our second knowledge exchange and networking event at the University of Stirling. A group of us from Edinburgh drove up to the University to attend the event. A gorgeous double rainbow greeted us as we approached Stirling. Our co-organiser, Heather, (also one of our recipients of the travel award) did a fabulous job with the event signposting. We couldn’t have missed it if we tried! At the event, there were fifteen post-grads from The University of Stirling, Edinburgh, Dundee, St. Andrews as well as private institutions like Sistema Scotland. The group of attendees made for an intimate event and allowed all of us to get to know each other and chat in detail during the day.

After welcoming everyone, Gideon from St. Andrews facilitated our speed networking activity to get to know each other’s research interests in a little bit more detail. We used this information later in another activity.

Stirling event March 2018_02

One of the highlights of the day was the research kindergarten tour organised by Heather (Stirling) and Josh (Dundee). Dr Eva Rafetseder from the University of Stirling gave us the tour of the kindergarten. What is interesting and unique about the facility is that every parent consents to his or her enrolled child participating in research. This ranges from observational studies to EEG studies. We started our tour in the main playroom. Immediately upon walking in, we lost our researcher hats and just wanted to play with the children! We saw a ‘secret’ room, a smaller room attached to the playroom where we could observe the children without them seeing us. The room tends to be used by researchers for observational studies. Next, we saw the EEG kits used in studies throughout the department. Particularly of interest were the new portable EEGs which enabled the wearer to move around and perform active tasks while wearing the kit.

After the kindergarten tour, we attended a talk by Dr Catherine Grainger on the science of lie detection. In her presentation, Catherine described some of her fascinating research that has used pre-existing recordings of individuals lying to evaluate how accurate individuals are at detecting deceit, as well as how good liars are at lying. Her study was particularly unique in that it involved recordings of individuals actually lying as opposed to actors pretending to lie, and this stimulated some really interesting discussion about research methods in lie-detection research.

The final activity was a great opportunity to draw on our experiences from the day to think towards the future. In this activity, attendees were asked to pair up with another delegate to brainstorm about a topic that they could collaboratively write about. It was great to see that even when pairs of researchers had very different research backgrounds, so many insightful projects were produced that drew on their similarities or areas of interesting difference. We were definitely not limited by scope either – one group suggested a longitudinal study on metacognition over 20 years, another group a Nature publication, and a third group suggesting a blog post on what not to do when designing a study with children. Being in a small group of engaged researchers really allowed everyone to describe their ideas in detail, as well as explore potential obstacles that they might face. We also found that attendees really enjoyed being able to ask questions and showcase their individual projects as well as the combined projects developed in pairs.

After the event, many of the attendees stuck around and we carried on our conversation. We received lovely feedback from our attendees, such as:

‘Speed networking and collaborative writing session were interactive and really engaging. I wish that was done more often at events.’

‘Everyone is engaged to develop some general awareness of others’ topics. The collaborative writing encourages people to think more deeply about potential collaborations.’

‘Freedom to explore ideas for research without logistic constraints. The small group really allowed us to all develop deep connections.’

We were pleased that our event was well attended by post-graduates from universities throughout Scotland. Attendees could not only form connections with universities across Scotland, but due to the small group of researchers with similar research interests, we felt that we connected more deeply with one another than we might have at a larger event. It was also incredible to have postgraduates from three different universities organising and facilitating this event together. We would again like to extend a massive thank you to all who attended. It’s been a great learning experience and we are looking forward to our next event in St. Andrews. More on this to follow – watch this space!

Stirling event March 2018